Alzheimer’s Clues to Watch For
Boxers’ cerebral spinal fluid contains elevated markers for Alzheimer’s disease. This was reported in a 2006 study led by Henrik Zetterberg of the Sahlgrenska Academy at Göteborg University in Sweden. In Alzheimer’s earliest stages, the disease can change levels of beta-amyloid and tau — proteins associated with clumps and tangles — in spinal fluid. Boxers who have the Apolipoprotein E genotype are at even greater risk.
Alzheimer’s clues in patients who suffered significant head injuries before age 65 showed symptoms at an earlier age than those who hadn’t had head injuries. Sabbagh recommends avoiding contact sports involving your head and using protective headgear.
DEMENTIA CAUSES CHANGES IN THE WAY PEOPLE WALK
A deteriorating gait and the inability to simultaneously walk and talk may indicate the onset of Alzheimer’s. “Walking while talking is a divided attention task,” says Verghese. Presumably the long studied gait changes in patients with non-Alzheimer’s dementia. “Now, if you are in the early stages of dementia or actually have dementia, then this becomes more challenging because you have limited attention resources.”
On the other hand many different studies presented at the 2012 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference tied gait change to the dementia. Alzheimer’s correlated with slower and/or erratic walking as well as difficulty in performing such tasks as walking while counting backward.
Since Alzheimer’s starts in the hippocampus, often called the brain’s seat of memory, disorientation is a hallmark of the disease. In other words, as it wer, this is why people with Alzheimer’s are notorious for wandering off and getting lost. “Navigational problems might arise very early in the course of cognitive decline,” says Verghese. He’s now working on a National Institutes of Health-funded study that looks at people’s ability to navigate and whether those who are navigation-ally challenged will face faster cognitive decline.
DEPRESSION AND SOCIAL WITHDRAWAL
People who suffer from depression earlier in life are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s as they age. A study by the Multi-Institutional Research in Alzheimer’s Genetic Epidemiology group, led by Robert Green of Harvard Medical School and published in Archives of Neurology in 2003, found a significant link between Dementia diagnoses and people who had shown symptoms of depression within the past year. No doubt doctors have long noted that people with Alzheimer’s tend to become depressed and withdraw socially, recent studies show that the depression predates dementia.
DEMENTIA SLEEP PROBLEMS
Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea have been linked to cognitive deficits. Previous studies found Alzheimer’s plaque developing in mice’s brains when their sleeping schedules were significantly disrupted. A study released in 2012 correlated sleep disruption and Alzheimer’s in humans. The Washington University study, led by David Holtzman of the college’s Department of Neurology, studied 150 cognitively normal people.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia Bio-markers
Those with bio markers for Alzheimer’s, as measured in their spinal fluid, were the worst sleepers. They spent more of their time in bed awake and napped more frequently during the day than those without the Alzheimer’s biomarkers. Accordingly, sleep apnea is also linked to nighttime cardiac events and high blood pressure, both of which also correlate with Alzheimer’s.
A FEW LIFESTYLE TIPS TO END ON HOPEFUL NOTE
Despite what he describes as nihilism about the disease within much of the medical community, there is hope. Medications to treat the disease have improved in the past 16 years. Consequently, the field itself is moving forward very rapidly.
Granted, there are lots of frustrations and failures, however that doesn’t mean the science has stood still. Sabbagh recommends making lifestyle changes as a preventative strategy right away. Eat your greens. Exercise. Value your social connections, and use your brain power. “You ought not to wait. For this reason by the time one become symptomatic, the pathology in your brain is significant.”